WASHINGTON - U.S. intelligence had information months before the Sept. 11 attacks that an al-Qaida operative now seen as the mastermind of the plot was planning to send terrorists to the United States, according to a highly anticipated congressional report.
A year before the attacks, the United States had also intercepted phone calls from one of the hijackers to a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East, but failed to realize until after Sept. 11 that the calls had come from one of the San Diego-based hijackers, congressional sources said.
The revelations were among more findings released yesterday by a joint congressional panel that has spent much of the past year investigating intelligence failures in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The report paints a disturbing portrait of a U.S. spy community too hobbled by Cold War habits and myopic policies to fully comprehend the emerging terrorist threat to the United States. It urged a host of reforms, including the creation of a Cabinet-level intelligence position.
"The intelligence community was not properly postured to meet the threat of global terrorism against the people of the United States," said Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who chairs the Senate intelligence committee.
The report represents the culmination of a high-profile probe in which investigators examined a half-million intelligence documents and conducted more than 600 interviews.
But the materials released yesterday - including nine pages of findings and 15 pages of recommendations - represent only a portion of the final product.
The bulk of the 450-page report remains classified, and it is unclear whether lawmakers will succeed in persuading the White House and intelligence agencies to release substantial portions of it to the public.
As a result, much of the information presented yesterday was in summary form, offering glimpses of material uncovered during the investigation, but making it difficult to fully assess the meaning of that material.
Graham and others stressed that there is no evidence that any agency had collected information indicating the time, place and nature of the Sept. 11 attacks.
But through a series of public hearings and sharply worded reports, the congressional inquiry has greatly eroded early claims by intelligence officials that the hijackers' planning was so sophisticated, and the plot so unimaginable, that preventing it would have been almost impossible.
Many of the findings issued yesterday had been previously reported. Among them are the FBI's failure to heed warnings from agents that terrorists might be training at U.S. flight schools. The report also repeated criticism of the CIA for failing to notify the FBI or other domestic agencies that two al-Qaida operatives had entered the United States in early 2000.
But several findings had not been previously disclosed. One of the most tantalizing is the assertion that U.S. intelligence agencies failed to recognize the significance of information collected in June 2001 on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaida operative now recognized as the architect of the 9/11 plot.
The reporting suggested that Mohammed was interested in "sending terrorists to the United States" and planning to direct their activities here.
Mohammed has been linked to several plots, including a 1995 scheme to crash a plane into CIA headquarters and to a key planner of the 1993 trade center bombing.
Greg Miller is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.